The Villanova Wildcats will face off against the West Virginia Mountaineers, a former Big East member, on Friday night in Boston’s East Regional semifinals. The Wildcats are coming off of dismantling the Alabama Crimson Tide, avoiding the second round upset that has unfortunately plagued this program and all who love it.
The West Virginia Mountaineers, avoiding a Wichita State team that was upended by #13 Marshall, similarly thumped the Thundering Herd and have advanced to their 3rd Sweet Sixteen in four years.
The “pressing” question that has been on everyone’s mind is whether West Virginia will be able to effectively execute its infamous press on a Villanova team that will gladly shoot the ball from the parking lot. This, of course, is complicated by the Monstars-style-talent-suck that occurs every time Villanova is tasked with inbounding a basketball in pressure.
So, in advance of Friday night’s match-up, let’s run through what you need to know.
My Mind is Saying “No,” But my Body is Telling Me “Press”
West Virginia likes to press. West Virginia is very good at pressing. West Virginia’s press, as touched on earlier this week, makes teams collectively lose their minds. That being said, Villanova is a tough match-up for West Virginia’s press because said press has the potential to give the Wildcats exactly what they want: open threes.
The consensus at this moment in time appears to be that WVU cannot press Villanova the way they would any other squad. Jalen Brunson is unlikely to be rattled by the pressure and Villanova will be able to continuously kick out to open threes on 2 v. 2, 3 v. 2 run-outs once the press is broken. However, what remains to be seen is (1) do the Mountaineers do it anyway, (2) if not, do they revert to a 3⁄4 press or fall back into a traditional half-court defense, and (3) if Villanova’s shots are not falling, does WVU eventually go back into their comfort zone?
West Virginia is a fantastic defensive team. They are ranked 5th in the country in steals, a ranking driven nearly entirely by their relentless pressure and Big 12 defensive player of the Jevon Carter. They play tough and aggressive and feast on turning teams over. They are willing to give up the open three, a sort of “live with it” byproduct of their press, because most college basketball teams do not have five players averaging over 40% from deep like Villanova does. WVU ranked 300th (?!) in three-point defense.
Who to Watch: Jevon Carter and Sagaba Konate
Any discussion of the West Virginia Mountaineers obviously begins with their senior leader, Jevon Carter. Carter is coming off dropping 28 points on Marshall, going 5-7 from deep, and another 21 on Murray State in Round 1. He’s averaging 17.4 points per game and shoots just shy of 40% from three. His offensive skills however are overshadowed by his defensive ability. Carter is a tenacious and aggressive defender. He has 107 (?!) steals on the year, more than Brunson and Bridges combined, and will undoubtedly be looking to cause problems for Jalen Brunson on a national stage. It will be interesting to see how Carter’s role within the defense adjusts if WVU is unable to stick with (or even attempt) its typical fully court press. That being said, if Villanova can neutralize Carter, WVU will likely be in trouble.
As for Sagaba Konate, the 6’8. 250 lb. sophomore is an incredible rim protector (averaging over 3 blocks a game) and could cause some issues for Villanova inside. Assuming the shots are falling for the Wildcats, buckets inside may end up being a luxury as opposed to a necessity. However, should the ‘Cats find themselves needing to drive the lane, Konate will be waiting. West Virginia ranks 5th in the nation in blocks and uses their press to essentially bait teams into driving to the basket. The team as a whole ranks 24th in the county in 2-point defense, a big part of which is the presence of Konate down low.